There were a lot of prospective initiates waiting, so Mukunda and Gurudas arranged for me to stay with Prabhupada in his house for a day or two. That was a wonderful experience because my initiation was a one-on-one in Prabhupada’s house. When it was my time to get initiated, I was told to bring some dakshin—a gift. I brought Prabhupada some sandalwood oil, some cloth and some incense. I was very timid and shy in those days. And I was anxious and nervous as well. I went to Prabhupada’s room with these things and knocked on the door. Kirtanananda and Hayagriva were with Prabhupada and I was so nervous that they had to calm me down. They said, “Just a minute, the Swami will see you in a little while.” I sat there and after a while Swamiji, as we called him, called me in. I didn’t know how to act, what to do, how long to stay, nothing. I offered him my respects and the first thing he said was, “Oh, so you want to be initiated?” Due to arrogance and false pride I took offense at that. I felt condescending, as if to say, “Well, of course I do. Why else am I here?” But that feeling easily dissipated and I said, “Yes.” Then Swamiji asked me if I knew what the requirements were, and I told him the rules and regulations. I noticed there was something very special about Prabhupada’s eyes, and I was very attracted to them. They were glowing. There was also something about Prabhupada that was different that soothed me. Prabhupada said, “All right, you can go now and we’ll call you back in a little while.” I offered my obeisances, and since I didn’t know how long to stay down, I just stayed there until Prabhupada said, “All right, you can get up now.” Then I got up, went out and sat outside for a while. Later, Kirtanananda nudged me and said, “Come in, the Swami wants to see you.” Prabhupada was sitting on his bed and I sat on the floor. His room was narrow, maybe four or five feet wide and eight or nine feet long. On one side of the bed there was a picture of Jagannatha Puri and on the other side, a picture of his gurudeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. Prabhupada checked with me again to see if I knew the four rules and regulations. I told him, and then he chanted on my beads. There was no fire sacrifice for my first initiation. And then he said, “Your name is Aniruddha,” with emphasis on that “dha.” I said, “What does it mean?” He said, “It’s the grandson of Krishna.” I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I was fidgety. Then Prabhupada said, “Do you have any questions?” I was so foolish that I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to ask, but I remembered reading that one of the qualities of a devotee is that he is grave. So I said, “What does grave mean?” It was a silly question. Prabhupada looked at me, smiled and told me what it meant. Then I again offered my obeisances and went out.
A little while later, Prabhupada called, “Aniruddha,” but I had already forgotten my name, and so I just sat there. Kirtanananda nudged me, “The Swami is calling you.” Then I went in Prabhupada’s room, but I was so nervous and uncertain that I don’t remember what happened. However, my overall impression was overwhelming. Although I was bewildered initially, a short time later the impression had a great effect upon me. I spent one night and two days with Srila Prabhupada and I remember that his life was so perfectly organized that everything was at a certain time. He had a time for waking up, for japa, for bath, for massage, for the mail, to take prasadam, to take a walk. My life had been so disorganized for so many years that I was attracted to and impressed by his organized way of doing things.
In the morning, I walked with Srila Prabhupada on the beach and later we had a kirtan that was a little fast. Prabhupada said, “A little slower, a little slower.” Afterwards, when I was going back to the temple on the bus, I thought, “I expected to feel something different but I don’t.” I thought that the spiritual master was magical and gave some charge. I didn’t feel a charge, but I did feel a surge of enthusiasm to be serious and strict with myself. I wanted to remain celibate, a brahmachari, and do the things Prabhupada had talked about. I went to the temple with this mood of enthusiasm and the devotees told me, “You’ll get over it.” In those days, the San Francisco temple was very loose compared to New York, which was very strict. In San Francisco we were all wearing flowery clothes, and after some of the kirtans, devotees would go to the local coffee shop and have donuts and so forth. But, I was attracted to what Prabhupada said. I wanted to be serious.
I mentioned to the producer of the TV show that we had an album called Happening and I gave him a prospectus. The first thing the interviewer said to Srila Prabhupada was, “Oh, Swami, I understand you have a record album. You must make a lot of money.” Prabhupada smiled at him and said, “Yes, a thousand dollars a week.” The interviewer was immediately defeated. The interview went along like that, and afterwards the producer couldn’t look us in the face because he saw that Srila Prabhupada was genuine. Prabhupada was not, as he had thought, some strange cult figure that he could cut apart On the other hand, The Les Crane Show was wonderful. Prabhupada chanted the Vandeham prayers at the beginning of the show. They allowed the singing to go on for a longer period than they had planned, and then Prabhupada chanted Hare Krishna while they had beautiful visuals of him and the devotees. Then they interviewed him, asking him general questions about sadhana. Prabhupada made the audience friendly right away. He was a perfect Vaishnava gentleman. He spoke kindly, smiled and said, “And I am such-and-such of age, and I even have my original teeth.” Prabhupada let Mukunda do a lot of the talking because Mukunda was calm and cool-headed and made a good impression. Mukunda spoke on basic things like tilak and so on. In the latter part of the show, a dogmatic Youth for Christ group was on— “Christ is the only way.” The audience didn’t like them much. In the parking lot after the show, people came over to Prabhupada and could see how genuine he was. Prabhupada had that quality. He was not like any bogus guru. Prabhupada said, “Before I came to the West, other yogis came here and only speculated on the mental platform.”
The UCLA college engagement I had arranged was a fiasco. We didn’t have much laxmi to advertise and due to my inexperience, I didn’t organize it properly. When Prabhupada came, nobody was there. Prabhupada looked at me and said, “So, Aniruddha?” I was shy, I felt tiny, and I wanted to hide somewhere. Prabhupada said, “That is all right, let us have kirtan.” So we had kirtan, and some Indian student saw Srila Prabhupada and came in to speak with him in Bengali. This student was intelligently challenging and arguing, like an impersonalist brahman. Then in English, Srila Prabhupada said, “Tell me, young man, where are your Indian countrymen?” The young man was quite flustered. He didn’t have an answer. Prabhupada said very gravely, “I will tell you, they are lost. Hare Krishna.”
We bought our incense at the Vedanta Society, a nice private ashram at the bottom of the hills on Vine Street in Los Angeles. At that time, they had the best incense. When I mentioned that to Prabhupada, he said, “I want to see that place.” I took him there and he walked around the property. He was aloof from the whole thing. Prabhupada said, “I would like to have an appointment with the swami in charge here.” His name was Swami Prabhavananda. He and a co-author had written the Penguin edition of the Bhagavad-gita—the verses with some interpretation—that many of us had read. Swami Prabhavananda was the head of this chapter of the Vedanta Society of the Ramakrishna Mission founded by Vivekananda in 1918. So, I made the arrangements and Prabhupada, some other devotees and I went to Swami Prabhavananda’s office. This swami wore a Nehru jacket and looked like a businessman. He conversed with Prabhupada and right away there was a strong challenging mood. We didn’t understand what was going on, but it wasn’t enlivening. Prabhupada was aglow, saying, “Oh, Chaitanya,” and this man was saying, “No, no, Swami, Chaitanya, no, no, no, no, no.” Due to my immaturity, I thought that they were arguing about placing our books in their stores. But later I understood that they were all impersonalists, that they would never put our books there. In the car on the way back, we were quiet. There wasn’t much enthusiasm. We were chanting and then Prabhupada said, “This Vedanta Society was introduced in America by Swami Vivekananda, who preached about Ramakrishna. Ramakrishna was not very popular in India. But Swami Vivekananda was an intellectual type and he told everybody how great Ramakrishna was. He attracted a lot of elderly people, got money, and became famous. Then he went back to India. Since the Indian people follow anything that’s famous in America, Vivekananda became famous that way.” But before he went to America, Prabhupada said, he wasn’t much of anything. Then Prabhupada said, “You know, Swami Vivekananda came here fifty years ago and now they have seven centers.” Then he smiled and said, “And we too have seven centers.” Everybody said, “Jaya!” Prabhupada always lifted us up and made us understand how much power this movement has and how it is growing. I just read a letter from Prabhupada to Janardan in Montreal where he wrote, “The other day I met Swami Prabhavananda, and I talked with him. To speak plainly how I found him—a great rascal . . . Prabhavananda said that in Ramakrishna’s previous life he was Lord Chaitanya. Similarly, it is said that he was formerly Rama and Krishna. If actually he was Rama and Krishna and Lord Chaitanya, why there are so many contradictions between Rama, Krishna and Lord Chaitanya’s teachings on one side, and the Ramakrishna Paramahamsa’s teachings on the other side? Do you think that Ramakrishna was Lord Chaitanya and after 400 years he changed the whole philosophy? Lord Chaitanya propagated worship of Krishna; Krishna propagated that one should worship Him, Krishna; how is it that this Ramakrishna worships the material goddess Kali? Ask this question. So, such rascaldom is going on all over the world. We have to be very careful in understanding Krishna Consciousness.” Because Prabhupada was saying these things to the so-called swami, the swami was getting upset. But at the time, I had no idea what was going on.
As the sun came up, we were walking with Srila Prabhupada on the pier at Venice Beach. There was a lone woman fishing at the end of the pier, and as we came closer, she got up, clasped her hands and said, “Oh, Swami, I saw you the other night on the Les Crane Show. It’s so nice to meet you.” That’s all she said. Afterwards Prabhupada said, “Just by the fact that she gave respect to a saintly person, she will advance so much.” Once, we were riding on the freeway in Los Angeles when we saw a sign that said ‘Santa Cruz such-and-such number of miles ahead.’ Prabhupada said, “What is this Santa Cruz?” I told him that in Spanish it’s a name for Lord Jesus that literally means ‘Saint of the Cross.’ He said, “Ah, yes, in India also there is a place called ‘Santa Cruz’ that was founded by some missionaries. ‘Santa’ comes from the word ‘sant,’ which means ‘saintly.’ You can call me Sant Bhaktivedanta.” His words seem simple, but it’s ecstatic to realize how Prabhupada implanted knowledge in us and cultivated the devotional love that we gradually felt for him and which completely changed our lives. We’re so grateful.
When Prabhupada was trying to acquire a permanent visa, he had to see a doctor to get a health statement. A friend of mine recommended a doctor in La Crescenta, and Subal drove Prabhupada to see that doctor in an old Volkswagen that some favorable hippie had donated. This car had huge colorful daisies painted on it, so you could see it a mile away. Naturally, some policemen stopped us because he knew something had to be wrong just by the way the car looked. Subal had an outstanding number of traffic violations, and the policeman immediately took him away. Prabhupada was there in the middle of the freeway. But Gaurasundar was also there so he continued driving. Prabhupada said, “Krishna is telling us that we need a better car.”
When Prabhupada first arrived, I got a call from a freelance photographer working with Life magazine in New York City. Since public interest in swamis was growing, Life was doing an article on the ‘swami circuit,’ as they called it. The reporter and photographer had gone to our 26 Second Avenue temple, but Prabhupada was in L.A., so they came to L.A. and a woman reporter interviewed Srila Prabhupada. I sat in on it. Prabhupada first described the mission he was on, but she didn’t write any of those things down, which was very typical of reporters in those days. Whenever Prabhupada spoke philosophy, they would gloss over it. They wanted to know why we wore tilak and what was the bead bag and so on. At the time, I was a little confused because I didn’t know that reporters were like that. I was anxious to see the article. Not a word of what Prabhupada said was in the article. But they did say that of all the groups that they contacted, the song that we sing, the Hare Krishna mantra, stayed in your head. And they did mention something that Prabhupada said, “The Swami said Lord Krishna descended at such-and-such a time to this planet.” The fact that they mentioned Lord Krishna, Prabhupada said, was wonderful. And he said that any sincere person who saw the pictures in the magazine would benefit. There was a wonderful picture of Prabhupada, done with filters to make it more attractive. That was very nice.
We went on many walks with Srila Prabhupada in San Francisco. One of his favorite places was Stowe Lake, a beautiful lake in the middle of Golden Gate Park. Prabhupada called it a garden because it’s architecturally landscaped—it isn’t natural like Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Every morning, the same woman would come with her dog, and Prabhupada would always say, “Hello, good morning, how are you?” And she’d smile. Prabhupada never said, “Hare Krishna.” One morning one of our God-brothers said, “Swamiji, why don’t you say ‘Hare Krishna’ to her?” Prabhupada said, “She would not say ‘Hare Krishna’ back, but this way she gets the benefit of giving respect to a saintly person.”
Govinda dasi told me that, “Swamiji prefers to be called Srila Prabhupada.” This was a little disturbing to me because I was attached to the name ‘Swamiji.’ So, on a morning walk with Srila Prabhupada, I said, “Swamiji, I understand that you prefer to be called Prabhupada,” and he said, “Where did you hear this? Who told you this?” Then his mood changed and he said, “Actually I do not prefer, but it is better.”
Srila Prabhupada used eucalyptus twigs to clean his teeth. They had to be a little longer than the length of a finger, and not too green. We would cut them, and he would soak them in water overnight, then bite the tips between his teeth and use the bristles as a toothbrush. We took turns getting these for Prabhupada. Here in Los Angeles there were a lot of eucalyptus trees. About sunrise one morning, I went to MacArthur Park on Wilshire Boulevard wearing my hat, my bead bag and carrying a huge knife. It was quiet—nobody was there. I parked my car and then cut down a large eucalyptus branch with a lot of tributaries so I could pick the right size. I was sitting on a bench with a knife cutting up this branch, when a patrol car pulled up. The police check through the park at certain hours. A policeman arrogantly strutted up to me and said, “Well, what do you have there, young man?” I said, “I’m cutting these for my spiritual master. He uses them as a toothbrush.” He said, “Have you been in a mental institution?” and then he said, “What do you have in that bag there?” and I explained my japa beads to him. He said, “I can arrest you for carrying that weapon.” He was using his power but he saw that I was okay. I told this story to Srila Prabhupada and he said, “Well, did you ask him if he was crazy?” Prabhupada was teaching me to be bold.
In the early days, we had easy access to Srila Prabhupada. I was twenty-seven and a little older than most of the devotees, and I’d get in anxiety that the others would take my things, so I’d go to see Srila Prabhupada. Many of my God-brothers also experienced this—that we’d be in such anxiety but as soon as we came into Prabhupada’s presence we understood right away that we should chant Hare Krishna and our problems would disappear. We couldn’t even approach Prabhupada with our questions. Prabhupada said, “I created your good fortune,” which is the truth. Once, I went into Prabhupada’s room—it was a large room—and I sat down on the floor and chanted. I was alone with Prabhupada and he said to me, “Sit on a pillow because sitting on the floor creates hemorrhoids.” He was so practical. Then I closed my eyes and became engrossed in my chanting and all of a sudden it dawned on me that I was taking up too much of Srila Prabhupada’s time. I opened up my eyes and said, “I should go, Srila Prabhupada,” and he said, “No, no, that is all right, you can stay.” So I asked him, “Is it really true, Srila Prabhupada that we can talk to Krishna just like I’m talking to you?” He looked at me and said, “Yes.” That was all I needed to know. It was very clear and matterof- fact. That was a wonderful experience. We all had our doubts. We were practicing but we weren’t fully knowledgeable, even to this day. So Prabhupada’s words were very reassuring.
I had an ecstatic experience at the wonderful San Francisco Rathayatra, and I wrote Prabhupada a letter about what I felt. He answered, “The car festival was very simple. After all, it is a car with four wheels, but it attracted the people so enthusiastically because there was His Lordship, Jagannatha. Atheistic people may say that Jagannatha was made of wood, and the car was also made of wood, but spiritual bliss can be exacted from anything, simply in Krishna consciousness. Even accepting the whole affair as wooden, a Krishna conscious person can understand that wood is nothing but a display of Krishna’s energy. So it is the Krishna conscious energy that gives us transcendental bliss, just like it is the electric energy passing through a copper cable that gives us electric light and heat. Simply the Krishna conscious electric energy can immediately be attractive by developing our sense of Krishna consciousness, which I am sure you are experiencing gradually how easily it can be done . . . To implement this transcendental bliss to the people of your country there is immense work to be done ahead and this Ratha-yatra festival is only a sample. If we get the opportunity we shall be able to over flood your country with waves of transcendental bliss, by the grace of Krishna. We can introduce various other ceremonies in connection with Krishna and His different expansions or incarnations in such a nice way that people are sure to be attracted by such a thing and become immersed in Krishna consciousness . . . There is not one incident like Ratha-yatra, but there are many hundreds of thousands of incidents in different appearances of the incarnations of Lord Krishna. In different cities and different centers we can introduce such multi-pastimes ceremonies of Lord Krishna. And certainly people will be engladdened to observe such transcendental and happy ceremonies.” That was a very enlivening letter.
Makanlal, Nara Narayan’s brother, was in San Francisco when I was there. He and his brother joined in San Francisco in the early days and were sincere devotees. Prabhupada said that they were very nice but a little eccentric (Makanlal said it was all right for me to say this). Makanlal and Nara-Narayan were long-haired hippies who wore typical clothes of those days and were a bit Shakespearean when they spoke. With a sonorous voice, Makanlal would chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare,” and it used to irritate me terribly. I would get disturbed during the kirtans. Then once, Makanlal had a preaching engagement at the YWCA in Berkeley, and I drove Srila Prabhupada there and back. The engagement was very nice, but all of a sudden who was leading the kirtan but Makanlal and I showed my distaste—I left the room. I was not very tolerant and didn’t have the right understanding. So, when I was driving Prabhupada home, he looked at me and said, “Aniruddha, this Makanlal sings very nicely, don’t you think?” I had to say, “Jaya, Prabhupada.” Gradually I understood, trnad api sunicena taror api sahisnuna, amanina manadena kirtaniyah sada harih. In a humble mode you can preach and chant incessantly, and that was Prabhupada’s mode. He knew exactly how to utilize everybody’s service. Even though there were some qualities that were not very nice, he never found fault. He found only the good. He used to say, “It’s very easy to be critical, but to find the good is rare.” I didn’t have the ability to see only the good, but I’m beginning to understand how magnificently Prabhupada had it. To see the good in others is the way to preach, the way to not disturb anybody. Prabhupada was a perfect Vaishnava. One of the qualities of a pure Vaishnava is that he’s a perfect gentleman. He doesn’t disturb anybody’s mind. He’s able to see the good in others and evoke it. That’s why we all wanted to serve Prabhupada, and that’s why we have difficulty with people who don’t evoke the good in us. It’s very rare to achieve that ability in fullness. But we can achieve it if we follow Prabhupada’s example.
I came to Hawaii in 1973, when Sudama Maharaj was in charge and when Ambarish Prabhu had bought a beautiful home where Srila Prabhupada could translate without being disturbed. One day when we were chanting sri-guru-carana-padma during gurupuja, Prabhupada said, “We should enter into the meaning of this.” I didn’t grasp what he meant, but his statement stayed with me all these years. The gurupuja song has a very deep meaning and from that song I’m beginning to get a little flash of the importance of seriously following Srila Prabhupada. For the first time I’m beginning to attain a serious attitude. “Entering into the meaning,” means to understand what Prabhupada is doing. The spiritual master’s lotus feet are the only way to achieve pure devotional service, and to achieve that goal—pure devotional service—we have to be burning with the desire for it. In his lectures, Prabhupada would say, “You have to be very anxious for this and develop this.” We heard his words but we could not understand what he meant. It is not easy, but when you change your heart and become serious, then you can enter into the meaning of these things and feel them with great emotion. Then you can feel reciprocation with Srila Prabhupada. It comes from meaning it when you say, “I’m going to follow strictly.” Sometimes we say, “I’ll try” because we’re not always ready to be strict, we have a lot of distractions. It takes a while. Everybody goes at a different pace. But sooner or later, that’s the goal. So, if you can achieve that, it’s very nice and very important. Prabhupada would like that.
Upendra was a wonderful devotee—warm, kind, and affectionate, and one of the God-brothers from the early days. He was a young man and Prabhupada took him under his wing. From Hawaii, Upendra went with Prabhupada to L.A. before Prabhupada sent him to Fiji to open up a temple. So, Upendra said he was sitting in Prabhupada’s room when Prabhupada looked at him and said, “You know, Upendra, those were the good old days. They will not be like that anymore.” I certainly would not exchange my experience of those early times. Everything has its purpose.